Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was greeted by raucous applause and blasts of confetti Wednesday as he took the stage to receive his first major endorsement in his 2018 campaign for governor from a labor union representing nurses in California.
The Democratic hopeful was swarmed by dozens of attendees who ran onto the stage to snap selfies as rock music blasted through the conference center ballroom. Newsom joked the scene felt as if he had already won the race, which is three years away.
The endorsement from the California Nurses Assn. was "one of the the easiest endorsements" the union has ever made, said Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro. She said the union's board did not interview any other potential candidates.
They selected Newsom because he launched the country's first universal healthcare initiative while he was mayor of San Francisco, three years before President Obama's healthcare package was approved by Congress, she said.
"It was just a given that Gavin would be a natural successor to [Gov. Jerry Brown]," DeMoro said in an interview.
Newsom thanked the union for the first endorsement of his campaign and personally praised the gathering of nurses for their work, adding that his father, retired state appellate Judge William Newsom, was in the hospital for 13 days last month.
During his appearance, Newsom spoke broadly about the state of the economy and battling income inequality in California.
At one point he paraphrased the Greek historian Plutarch saying, "The imbalance between the rich and the poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."
"The economy is not immutable, it’s not about natural laws it’s about rules and we make the rules," he said.
The nurses union, while not major donors to statewide campaigns, has nonetheless been a vocal and visible player.
In 2010, it tracked down the former housekeeper of GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman, a woman who did not have legal residency. The issue proved to be a political embarrassment to Whitman. And in 2005, the nurses led the effort against former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s slate of special election ballot measures — an effort that was sparked by an incident in which Schwarzenegger dismissed some union protesters as “special interests” and noted he was “always kicking their butts."
Among the three, only Newsom is an official candidate. Villaraigosa has indicated that he may consider a run and has been going on a listening tour in the state's Central Valley.
In the poll, registered voters were asked whether they were inclined to support eight prominent Californians who could be candidates for governor in 2018, and 42% said they would vote for Villaraigosa, 41% would vote for Newsom and 36% would vote for Garcetti.
Newsom acknowledged the 2018 campaign hasn’t started because there are no other candidates.
"We have to put our head down, take nothing for granted. This is a long three years," he said in an interview. "A lot of good candidates, I expect, will be making their case sooner than later."
Newsom has $2.7 million in cash on hand for his campaign -- including $29,200 from the nurses union -- and has about $2.9 million left over from his last run for lieutenant governor.
Staff writer John Myers contributed to this report.